30 December, 2018

2018 in Review

Click pics to enlarge. To the right, the Grommes flanking and atop the Wavac MD-811; in the middle, the WE 133; to the left, Thorens TD-124 MkI with ad-hoc SME "3012".

2018 in Review

It has been quite a stressful year. Due to my leaving HK, for once, I have sold off far more than I have acquired. Although without many new toys, my experience has not been less vital than in years past.

Best Sound

Western Electric + Horns = Great Sound This is a truth, but of course even WE can get mangled in the hands of users with lesser ears. The WE 41/42/43 heard here was not only the best sound of the year, but also likely the best horns I have heard. However, running it very close is the sweet WE 46 system heard here.

Even without using WE, the horns in my NYC circle, three Altec's and my own YL, which I have written a lot on, have all sounded very good.

Sleepers that have given the Best a Run for the Money

This year is just as remarkable for mostly Rediscoveries!

6V6 Amps My two pairs of 6V6 amps heard at Kevin's (here) are now back in my home. I swapped out the Grommes LJ5 for the Wavac MD-811 and was delighted by the results. With both my recently fired up System I (Manley 300B as preamp) or System II (Shindo Monbrisson as preamp), the sound was just as good, if not better than before. Compared to the SET Wavac, the midrange is just as transparent and sweet, whereas the treble is a tad smoother and the bass a tad more fulsome and rolling. Curiously, in my system, there is none of the overly smooth and somewhat restrained manner experienced at Kevin's. I double-checked with my Mangar Test CD, and everything sounded just wonderful. When I get the chance, I shall take this to Andy's place and give it another sounding. Grommes, like Bell, in an old name that has a solid reputation. But I kinda suspect many other 6V6 amps (though not all, as some are pretty flimsy) will sound great too with horns. For more on 6V6, read my Overview (here).

B&W Matrix 801 Mk II Towards the end of my stay in HK, I got re-acquainted with my B&W Matrix 801Mk II. After writing about it (here), I actually got to listen to it a lot more while cleaning house. The more I listen, the more I was impressed. What a deep sound! I actually heard more details than even my Tannoy Canterbury and TAD TD-3401. And that authoritative bass belies the woofer's relatively modest 12" diameter - it managed to sound like a 15" paper woofer, the best in my book. As this article gets ready, I learned that our friend Kevin has just scored a mint pair, so you can be sure of further reports. I am glad I'll get to hear them again imminently - I miss them!

Lowther TP-1 and VTL Straightline DAC/Preamp These are real gems, not a whit outdated in sound. See the same article for details.

Loudspeaker Placement continues to be an important issue, even for bulky horns, which tend to be left against the wall. Significant improvements were obtained with them further in-room, as witnessed in the Altec Systems of both R and Kevin (here).

Subwoofer Use Many systems would benefit from the addition of a subwoofer. ESL In the case of our friend WSS, the addition of a subwoofer (my REL) for his Quad 2812 was eminently audible, not for more solid bass per se, but for an added vitality, which is quite winning! 47 Labs 4737 Addition of subwoofer utterly transformed the 4737 from a great small loudspeaker to a full system!

Honorable Mentions 47 Labs 4737 This small loudspeaker with alnico magnets works a treat with solid state amplification, less so for tube amps (here), but it is with the addition of a Subwoofer that elevated it to the Pantheon. The result was so persuasive that I sold them to my ESL friend WSS! SMSL SA-36 Pro performed way beyond expectation. At my friend R's place, I'd rather listen to it than his Jadis and Cary (here). I suspect many T amps would do a similar job. Blue Velvet Preamp A cheap Chinese implementation of this (mainly) Dick Olsher design, a known DIY entity, was surprisingly good sounding.

Happy New Year!

23 December, 2018

Season's Greetings

Chez R's, evaluating the latest incarnation of the vinyl setup.

Season's Greetings

Greetings to you all!

It's that time of the year again, when everyone seems to be celebrating. While the younger souls seek fun and parties, it is closer to routine for many older people, without much time for discovery and reflection, sometimes even with burden that come with reality.

But for everyone, one thing is sure - those who think of giving possess the spirit and are the richer for it. And we should all be glad that we get to share and get together with friends, particularly over food. In that sense, my holiday season started early. The right pic shows the wonderful desserts from Brooklyn that I was served at my friend H's house on the last day of Hanukah. The left pic shows the great lunch Kevin served. With the exception of the fried eel, all were take-outs: the other flavored Fried Fish, surprisingly excellent Chicken (蔥油雞) and Spicy Beef with Tripe (夫妻肺片), the last the best I have ever had, better than any that I have had in Shenzhen (HK simply does not qualify), all testament to the prowess of the Chinese chef diaspora. The food was so good that I have forgotten what was on the audio agenda that day.

Chez R The Dining Highlight of my season must go to R's lunch or us last Sunday. The Pork Shank (Osso Buco equivalent) was privately sourced superior meat, brined and cooked to perfection. The fat had only slivers of connective tissue left, melting in the mouth. The garnishing was not to be slighted either: a self-fermented Sauerkraut and Kielbasa (home made by his friend). They looked so good that I forgot to take a pic of the table!

For some reason, this time the great food did not erase my audio memory. In the LR, which I have not reported on for quite a long time, we evaluated the current setup:

Analog: Rockport Sirius II / Jan Allaerts MC2
SUT: Kondo KSL SFz (previously Ortofon T20)
Phonoamp: mammoth Tube Research
Preamp: ARC Reference 2
Amp: mammoth Tube Research monoblocks
Loudspeakers: Wilson Grand Slamm

Most of these have been in the smaller audio room before. For more articles, simply use the search functions in this blog for "R". I'd not mince words - for various reasons I think the first incarnation of the system is still the best. Now it is just too sluggish and tame for me.

Chez Andy After visiting R, we retreated to Andy's place and drank more. Before Andy served us his signature Beef Noodles, VAS Stephen showed us some of the cartridges he had restored/modified for the crowd, including a Denon DL-103 with Ruby cantilever!!!

17 December, 2018

Related imageNancy Wilson

Obituary in The Washington Post (most informative).

Nancy Wilson had just passed away.

In record hunting, I often come across Nancy Wilson's many Capitol albums in the dollar bins. They were highly popular in their days but, as is the wont for pop music, the vast majority of the records are in poor condition. Nonetheless, I managed to score a few that were listenable, and they impressed me.

Nancy Wilson called herself a "Song Stylist" and rather prided herself on her polystylistic breath (the link quoted above is most revealing). Indeed I was most attracted by the way she turned a song into her own, indeed her style. The material was uneven, the arrangements variable, but the total command of the songstress was never in doubt. I just had a conversation with my friend Andy, who also really liked her style, more so than Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. I can concur and do think Nancy Wilson is most under-rated. If you ask me, she is a finer jazz singer than most, just that her own priorities lied elsewhere.

Many years ago I went to a concert of hers in Carnegie Hall. She was every inch the diva, beautiful, sassy, elegant, just superb. Interestingly, if you study hard the covers of her albums, her image is that of the girl next door, but one who would occasionally reveal her sexiness. Personally, I love her often featured yellow dress.

Nancy Wilson had also been hosts to popular TV and radio programs. I urge you to sample the long running National Public Radio NPR's Jazz Profiles series. Below are pics of two of my favorites, Erroll Garner and Tommy Flanagan.

Tommy Flanagan: Poet Of PianoErroll Garner: 'The Joy of a Genius'

01 December, 2018

Genesis V, EAR G-88, 549

Not anyone's idea of fun: Jumping the car at night and in the rain.

Audiophilia: Rain or Shine, Dead or Alive
Home Visit: Genesis V, EAR G88, 549
Return Visit to VAS

The weather forecast was not promising, but under our great leader's guidance we soldiered on. Andy had organized the New Jersey trip with a visit to composer Han Yong's home in central Jersey as an opener.

With Kevin chauffeuring Andy and I, we started early and made good time but just short of target we were derailed by the GPS. We ended up on the wrong side of a river and the road across was closed due to flooding. It took us quite a while, with the help of Google map and considerable detour, to finally reach destination. By that time, the raining had started. We were met there by James, who had had no trouble driving from Philadelphia.

Home Visit: Genesis V, EAR G88, 549
HY has just recently moved into this very handsome, and cavernous new home. The listening room is not the largest, longer than wide, and with a somewhat low ceiling.

Han proclaimed that he just want a good system to listen to music, but from his compulsive tweaking it seems to us he is also every inch an audiophile.

Analog Rig: Acoustic Signature Final Tool/Benz Micro ACE (temporary)
CDP: Sonic Frontier SFCD
Preamp (with MM/MC phono): EAR G88
Amp: EAR 549 monoblocks
Loudspeakers: Genesis V

Nothing is what it seems. There is quite a bit of studied cabling around. HY likes a particular kind of teflon-coated silver-plated cable and not only his power cords are made of it, he has replaced most of the wiring in his EAR preamp and amps with it too.

Image result for reiner kijeThe sound was very good, clean and with good perspective. Orchestral details were impressively layered and revealing (as on Reiner's Lt Kije), though I found solo piano and violin to be a trifle lean for my taste. Also, I am very particular about the bass - good as it was, it was not the last word in tactile quality, as I'd expect from managed and powered bass (this from a 15" paper cone horn aficionado).

Image result for han yong cantandoWe only heard one CD, and that was HY's own composition. It is a rich and nicely crafted amalgamation of Eastern and Western elements. Importantly, the tonal balance of the digital sound was commensurate with the analog, as I believe is the way it should be. Of course, analog is more involving, and coming from a composer one could hardly argue! Nothing argues the case more than the fairly large collection of LP's in the basement. I love the pics of the composers!

We did not get to hear HY's other rig, said to be very good for CD:

CD Transport: MBL CDP used as such
DAC and (Re-clocker): dCS
Preamp: CAT SL-1
Amp: Canary 300B

I was also intrigued by the disc washing setups. Aside from a VPI 17, HY has a cheap Ultrasound setup, comprising a professional Vevor Cleaner and a Vinyl Stack Record Spinner.

When we left it was raining hard, but we proceeded to Princeton, where we had lunch and visited Princeton Record Exchange, which has a lot less interesting things than before. Although slim picking, I still bought 2 CD sets and 2 LP's.

Return Visit to VAS
In the rain, it took quite a while to reach Steven at VAS (next to VPI; earlier visit here).

The sound was the best we have heard at his place, also the best I have heard from the 802, not a model that I like usually.

Analog: VPI TT (rim drive)/VAS MC cartridge/VAS MC SUT
Preamp: ARC SP-11, heavily modded, with tube PS.
Amps: VAS "Citation II" monoblocks (tube swaps of 5R4, 5755 and 12SX7)
Loudspeakers: B&W Nautilus 802

A very fine day!